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MPRs Julia Schrenkler on Citizen Journalism

Page history last edited by Steve Escher 10 years, 10 months ago

 

 

“ ... citizens are refreshingly smart and evolved. Some may expect “untrained” citizen journalism to be rough or haphazard and that simply wasn’t the experience. During and after the bridge collapse I heard more clarification and tighter facts in first person witness accounts than I’ve heard in past general coverage. I also observed a higher percentage of photos telling different aspects of the story. My favorite example is that several citizens took reaction shots of the crowd. Some photographers focused in on specific rescue attempts, even revisiting the shot to document how the scene changed over time.”

 


 

Citizen journalism and the collapse of the 35W Bridge

Interview with Julia Schrenkler, Interactive Producer,

New Media for Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)/APM

 


 

1. What was (or still is) the role and/or impact of citizen journalists in the media coverage of the 35W bridge collapse?

First person accounts, multi-perspective photos and “fall out” commentary aligned well with the reporting and analytical work. The sharing and self-syndication was immediate, extensive, and varied. The number of outlets and the update frequency people used to communicate their experience was much cleaner and more efficient than it might have been 3 years ago.

 

As to impact, I think we’re still seeing the effects. I firmly believe that instant online community networking will have an incredible impact on how people see their own role with future news. 

 

* Note that citizen activity was mostly self-identified or proffered in response to participate via an open call to action. We even had an expert in the engineering field contribute his own experienced commentary on Gather.com and within our blog comments.

 

2. How did citizens participate in creating news and information on the disaster—in general and/or in collaboration with MPR?

They primarily recounted their witness experiences to our Public Insight Journalism team, shared their perspective in online discussions, submitted text commentary and provided photographs.

 

3. Was the coverage and content about the event created by citizen journalists significant? Why or why not and in what ways?

Of course it was significant. For example … with permission (and giving due photo credit) we were able to incorporate citizen images directly into our stories as it suited the report. Thanks to the various angles and subject matter in the photos, the tie between our coverage and the story the photo told was strengthened.

 

4. Was there anything unique about the content and coverage of the bridge collapse created by citizen journalists?

It reflected that citizens are refreshingly smart and evolved. Some may expect “untrained” citizen journalism to be rough or haphazard and that simply wasn’t the experience. During and after the bridge collapse I heard more clarification and tighter facts in first person witness accounts than I’ve heard in past general coverage. I also observed a higher percentage of photos telling different aspects of the story. My favorite example is that several citizens took reaction shots of the crowd. Some photographers focused in on specific rescue attempts, even revisiting the shot to document how the scene changed over time.

 

5. Was/is citizen journalism more effective than legacy models in generating and disseminating news and information on the event? Less effective? If so, how?

 

Each has their strengths. During this event I witnessed citizen journalism excelling in speed and connections, as well as providing running updates / aggregating information and coverage. Legacy journalism (often referred to as the MSM) has established access, reputation, and distribution, not to mention editorial support. That doesn’t mean citizen journalism doesn’t have those things. It also doesn’t mean established outlets like MPR don’t have speed and perspective. During the event both forms fed and quoted each other, pushing for more effective coverage from all.

 

Note this is my personal opinion based on seeing both in action side-by-side during those first 24 hours after the collapse.

 

6. Did content created by citizens improve reporting on the bridge collapse by professional journalists and news organizations? Why or why not and in what ways?

Yes. People produced their own coverage and were actually called forward to serve as sources to relay their experience via our coverage. Their sites / text / images were given full due. Because they had the opportunity to be their own source and publish their own work, they also pushed our journalists to ask better questions or pursue a different revelation. A great example can be found on Future Tense, 08/03/2008.

 

[Revisit: With permission (and giving due photo credit) we were able to incorporate their images directly into our stories as it suited the report. Thanks to the various angles and subject matter in the photos, the tie between our coverage and the story the photo told was strengthened.]

 

7. In your opinion, did citizen journalism on the bridge collapse live up to the ideals of citizen journalism—providing a broader diversity of sources and perspectives, more expertise than a single journalist, for example?

In my opinion, yes.

 

8. Did you learn anything new about citizen journalism in covering the bridge collapse, for example, its potential, new sources, new means of communicating, etc.?

I’d say that people are learning by doing and that pushes existing professional/paid journalism to be better. The experience spurred us to become more active in various online communities and tools.

 

Ultimately I’d say we continue our work to collaborate with citizens better, faster, more.

 

9. Any other comments, or insights you’d like to share about citizen journalism and the 35W bridge collapse?

Just a thought … This event further cemented that people expect citizen journalists to tell their story or provide some sort of coverage. There’s no going back to one or two papers being the sole news outlets.

 

10. How do you manage the issue of credibility and content from citizens?

You know, citizens have their own name and credibility to protect. Photos and photo credits carry their own clear line back to the photographer. Commentary is directly attributed to the writer. First person accounts are handled smartly and clearly told from the individual’s perspective.

 

People have their name directly and very publicly tied to their experience as it is broadcast or published. I like to think they’d work to protect that personal credibility.

 

11. Why is citizen journalism important?

It has been said before, but I think that citizen journalism makes us all better citizens. It documents and disseminates the curious and often tenacious information gathering activities we all undertake at one time or another. Those stories and experiences could be lost without self-publishing or community interest.

 

12. What are the limitations of citizen journalism—its disadvantages?

Without a community or connections that same self-published story could be lost in the noise, that’s one of many reasons to love Internet communities.

 

13. What do you think the future of citizen journalism is here in the Twin Cities and in general?

Minnesota has amazing and constantly evolving citizen journalism. I’m in awe of the passion I’ve seen here. In the future I expect even stronger eyewitness accounts, more structured independent citizen-based investigation, and people becoming better—and smarter—sources for legacy media. People are better equipped to analyze information (sometimes simply raw data) and distribute their perspective and knowledge more quickly than in the past. There’s a sense of “independent correspondent” in the air, and that’s incredibly refreshing.

 


McDonnell, Sara. (2008, 9 April). Interview with Julia Schrenkler.

 

 

 

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